It looks like the born-again Christians and the Taliban are correct and the internet is slowly killing off religious belief.
Research carried out by MIT has found that a dramatic drop in religious affiliation in the US since 1990 is closely mirrored by the increase in internet use.
Back in 1990, about eight percent of the US population had no religious preference. By 2010, this percentage had more than doubled to 18 percent. That’s a difference of about 25 million people who have lost their religion.
Allen Downey, a computer scientist at the Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts, who has analysed the data in detail, said that the demise is the result of several factors but the most controversial of these is the rise of the internet.
Downey’s data comes from the General Social Survey, a widely respected sociological survey carried out by the University of Chicago that has regularly measured people’s attitudes and demographics since 1972.
Downey found that the biggest influence on religious affiliation is religious upbringing and those who are brought up in a religion are more likely to be affiliated to that religion later.
However, the number of people with a religious upbringing has dropped since 1990 and this inevitably lead to a fall in the number who are religious later in life. But this data indicates that it only explains a quarter of the drop.
Some of it is also due to an increase in people getting a college-level education. Since the 1980s, the fraction of people receiving college level education has increased from 17.4 percent to 27.2 percent in the 2000s. He thinks that accounts for about five percent of the drop, so some other factor must also be involved.
In the 1980s, internet use was essentially zero, but in 2010, 53 percent of the population spent two hours per week online and 25 percent surfed for more than seven hours. This increase closely matches the decrease in religious affiliation. In fact, Downey calculates that it can account for about 25 percent of the drop.
It is not simply because huge numbers of Americans are discovering porn and other distractions; it is because the internet blurs community lines. Instead of just speaking to people inside your community, who might share your religious beliefs, you end finding information about people of other religions (and none), and to interact with them personally.
Downey said that the drop in religious upbringing, the increase in college-level education and the increase in internet use together explain about 50 percent of the drop in religious affiliation. The other half remains unexplained.
There appears to be something else in modern life which is causing people to lose their faith. Our theory is that it also coincides with US conservative politicians becoming more religiously extreme and bringing in headline grabbing policies which are anti-women and more looney. Suddenly people are thinking, if that is what being religious all is about, I cannot be bothered with it.